Is Lane-Splitting Legal, and How Does It Affect an Accident Case?

Maybe you've been stuck in traffic while a motorcycle zooms by in the narrow space between your car and the car in the next lane over.

Maybe you've been stuck in traffic while a motorcycle zooms by in the narrow space between your car and the car in the next lane over. And you wonder, "Can that possibly be legal?" Or, perhaps you're a motorcycle rider or bicyclist, and you've resorted to the maneuver yourself in order to avoid sitting still in a traffic jam behind all those four-wheeled vehicles. Many motorcyclists, and a few bicyclists, engage in “lane splitting.” Done mostly in traffic jams, it means squeezing a motorcycle or bicycle between lanes, passing the cars in stop-and-go traffic on each side.

Is Lane-Splitting Legal?

Lane splitting is not recognized as a legal maneuver in any state except California. In most states it is not specifically prohibited but is regularly interpreted by police and courts as unlawful (usually under some catch-all traffic ordinance that prohibits unsafe maneuvers or risky practices). Even in California, lane-splitting is legal only if it's done safely. And “safely” is always very much a judgment call. The mere fact that an accident happened while a rider was lane splitting is very strong evidence that on that occasion it wasn’t safe to do so.

How Lane-Splitting Affects an Insurance Claim or Personal Injury Lawsuit

If you have been involved in an accident while lane-splitting, you have a hard job in store for you when it comes time to convince an insurance adjuster that the accident was not completely your fault. Remember, in most states you need not show that the accident was entirely the other driver’s fault; you need only show that the other driver’s carelessness was a substantial cause of the accident (or that the other driver was at least 50 percent or 51 percent at fault for causing the crash).

What You'll Need to Show

Despite the fact that you'll be behind the proverbial eight-ball if you got into a traffic accident while lane-splitting, in a few circumstances you may be able to convince an insurance adjuster that the other driver contributed significantly to the accident, and that therefore you should be at least partially, if not fully, compensated. It helps if you can show that you were riding cautiously -- not speeding or weaving in and out of lanes or between cars. A police report or witness statement may help to bolster you’re argument here. (Learn more about Records to Gather After a Car Accident.)

The extent of your experience as a cyclist may also support your claim that lane-splitting was appropriate under the circumstances. Most important, however, is showing that the other driver did something even more dangerous than you’re act of lane-splitting. Most likely this would be making an abrupt lane change without signaling, or drifting from one lane into another. Again, support from a police report or witness may be crucial in convincing an insurance adjuster that the other driver’s carelessness was a significant factor in the accident.

Getting More Information and Legal Help

For more tips on establishing liability after a bicycle-car accident -- and everything you need to know to handle your insurance claim or personal injury lawsuit -- get How to Win Your Personal Injury Claim by Joseph L. Matthews (Nolo). And before you file a claim or lawsuit, you might want to consider talking with a personal injury attorney to make sure that all your legal bases are covered and your rights are protected.

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